Homeschooling on the Spectrum, Post #5: Ladybugs and Bees

“1, 2, 3…4, 5, 6…7, 8, 9….10, 11, 12 Ladybugs came, to the ladybug picnic!” I introduced Beth to Ladybugs’ Picnic one day while reliving my 70s TV childhood via classic Sesame Street videos on YouTube. It was love at first viewing for Beth.

Since Beth has trouble slowing down to count while pointing or placing items, I thought an activity based on the Ladybugs’ Picnic video would be a fun way to work on counting. One idea lead to another and eventually we had a whole ladybugs and bees (with some other bugs thrown in) lesson.

Ladybug (and Bee) Math

Ladybugs’ Picnic Activities

I turned the 12 ladybugs in Ladybugs’ Picnic into a hands-on math activity. We made egg carton ladybugs, which was a fun and easy craft project ( and Then we used our bugs for sequencing and counting. If she lost interest during the math activity, I just sang the Ladybugs’ Picnic song and she regained her focus immediately.

Egg Carton Painted Red for 12 Ladybugs

Egg Carton Painted Red for 12 Ladybugs


Self-Stick Foam Spots and Self-Stick Wiggle Eyes (This one had an eye issue)

12 Ladybugs Made From an Egg Carton

12 Ladybugs Made From an Egg Carton

Ladybug Sequencing Activity

Ladybug Sequencing Activity

Ladybug Symmetry and Counting Activities

Google “ladybug math” and prepare to find tons of activities.  I chose the symmetry and leaf counting ideas from I found the black stones for the symmetry activity and painted wooden ladybugs for the counting activity at A.C. Moore craft store (you can check Etsy and Amazon for similar items). Note that putting wooden ladybugs in a bowl as shown in the picture below didn’t work out.  I had to hand Beth individual wooden ladybugs during the counting process (otherwise she just threw a bunch on the leaves and counted fast to a favorite number, which is usually 5 or 10).

Lady Bug Symmetry

Ladybug Symmetry Activity

Wooden Ladybug Counting

Wooden Ladybug Counting Activity

Bee Counting Activity

At this point, I decided to that we should study bees with our ladybugs.  Beth sometimes confuses where they live (hive), what they eat (flowers), and what they make (honey). Also, it is important to vary activities as much as possible, because Beth tends to get stuck on doing things one way.  So, I printed some hives off of Google Image (type in “bee hive printable” in Google Images) and bought some wooden bees at a local A.C. Moore craft store (you can check Etsy and Amazon for similar bees), and we did bee counting.

Bee and Hive Counting

Bee Counting Activity

An Introduction to Bees with Videos and a Collage

I backed up a bit after the bee counting and gave her a bee overview, starting with videos of bees. There are many videos about bees on Youtube. For example, this is a wonderful video showing bees making a hive:

Next I printed off several bee-related images from Google Images and we cut/paste a collage as an overall introduction to bees.


Bee Collage

Side-by-Side Ladybug and Bee Drawings

The Oak Meadow program showed me the value of drawing with Beth. We did simple ladybug and bee drawings together, where I drew on the right-hand side of a spiral sketch book and she drew on the left-hand side. Despite Beth’s attention and fine motor challenges, she was able to pay attention to this task because she is attracted to the movement of my hand as I draw. We first practiced on a roll of paper on our work table, and you can see the practice drawings in our ladybug sequence picture above (  I used no hand-over-hand, just demonstration, simple instructions, and pointing (draw a big circle, draw little circles inside, color in circles, draw a head, draw legs, draw wings like this (I demonstrate, then point on her drawing), draw an oval, etc).  The results are astonishing.  And it makes me think, why do we skip the step of drawing before writing with many special needs kids? Kids normally draw before writing, so in my mind it makes sense to do guided drawing before writing. Therefore, we will be doing mostly drawing, and some beginning letter writing, as we start this Kindergarten year.

Side-by-Side Ladybug Drawing

Side-by-Side Ladybug Drawing

Side-by-Side Bee Drawing

Side-by-Side Bee Drawing

Ladybug and Bee River Rock Painting

Beth is obsessed with walking on river rocks lately. It may be the sound the rocks make as she walks on them and they move against each other. It may also be an emotional connection to a past experience with river rocks, although I am unable to figure out the connection. Whatever the reason, they are a passion of hers and I decided that a popular kids craft, river rock painting, would be a nice addition to our ladybugs and bees lesson.

Walking on River Rocks

Beth Walking on River Rocks

To paint river rocks, I used river rocks form a craft store (I didn’t have ready access to some when I needed them), acrylic paint, and a clear acrylic sealer. Note that the craft store rocks seemed shined and we had problems with pealing after we were done.  Therefore I suggest using natural clean, dry, and rough river rocks, or you will need to do a surface priming on the craft store river rocks.

The trick was to help Beth slow down and create the likeness of the ladybugs and bees, since her tendency is to paint the entire surface. I used a few masking techniques  (with my hand or painter’s tape) and for the spots and wings a trimmed sponge brush and sponge worked best.  We practiced dabbing spots, making stripes, and sponging wings on paper before we dabbed on the rocks, and during the paper practice I taught her the language (dab, go down, one time, make spots, etc.).


Ladybug Rocks (first coat red already dry, ready to paint black head and dots)

Beth Paints Ladybug Heads (my hand is used as a mask for the rest of the rock)

Beth Paints Ladybug Heads (my hand is used as a mask for the rest of the rock)


Sponge Brushes (trim to a nub to use for ladybug spots and eyes)

Bee Rocks (painters tape used to mask when black is painted...let dry and pull off tape before making yellow stripes)

Bee Rocks (painters tape used to mask when black is painted…let dry and pull off tape before making yellow stripes)

Sponging Wings on Bee Rocks

Sponging Wings on Bee Rocks

Final Painted Ladybug and Bee River Rocks

Final Painted Ladybug and Bee River Rocks

Adventures with Ladybug Land

There were plenty of bees on flowers that I could show Beth this summer, but I tried in vain to find ladybugs. My solution was Ladybug Land. I dumped the larvae into their new home when they arrived.  As soon as I walked away, Beth had disassembled Ladybug Land and was washing it out in the sink. Most of them drowned, but I was able to rescue 4 from the bathroom floor and they made it from larvae, to yellow bugs, to mature red ladybugs. She was mildly amused as I let them crawl on her.  We will try it again next Spring, in addition to painting non-peeling river rocks for our garden!


Big Bugs at Morris Arboretum

As luck would have it, our local arboretum was having a giant bug sculpture display throughout their gardens.  One of the bugs was a ladybug, and the other sculptures were a great way to teach Beth about the overall bug category. The bug exhibit made me realize the value of incorporating the temporary exhibits at local gardens and museums into our lessons. She learns best by total immersion in a topic, and by syncing the exhibit content with our lessons it would prepare her for coping and understanding her environment better during the outing.

Ladybug Sculpture, Morris Arboretum

Ladybug Sculpture, Morris Arboretum

Grasshopper Sculpture, Morris Arboretum

Grasshopper Sculpture, Morris Arboretum

Spider Sculpture, Morris Arboretum

Spider Sculpture, Morris Arboretum

Other Ladybug and Bee Activities

Throughout the 1.5 weeks we studied ladybugs and bees (and other bugs), I wove in other books and activities, such as these.

Favorite Books:

Ten Little Ladybugs (

Ladybug, First Discovery (

Ladybug Girl (

The Honey Makers (

Bee and Me (

Itsy Bitsy Spider (

Honey Bee Tree Game:

Honey Bee Tree Game

Honey Bee Tree Game

Bug Magnet Scene and Puzzle:




Expanding Zingo

In my last post, I wrote about how to make easy turn-taking games easier (  Now Beth and I play turn-taking games for hours every day.  It is so wonderful to work on interaction and language development and have fun at the same time.

When given a choice of games, Beth always chooses Zingo ( , picture below).  There is something uniquely fun about sliding that dispenser to eject the game pieces, matching the pictures, and then throwing up our hands and yelling (well, quietly yelling) “Zingo!” when we are done filling our cards.  During the game Beth readily talks.  I ask, “What did you get?” and she almost always answers.  Lately I don’t even need to ask, she is commenting on her pieces without prompting.  I also expand her language based on the game pieces. “What does the dog say?”, “Where does the bird fly?”, and “Where do you put a hat?” are just a few examples of ways we expand language during play.  After running out of ideas to expand Beth’s language using the Zingo game pieces, I realized it was time to expand Zingo itself.

Below are two ways I have expanded Zingo by making custom made Zingo game pieces.  I wanted to keep our original Zingo game in tact so that we could still play the game, so I bought a second Zingo game (Zingo 1-2-3 numbers version [1], which we will use later when she is counting) to attach pictures to the game pieces.


Clip Art on Zingo Game Pieces

I bought JPEG clip art files from an artist on Etsy (  Using Power Point, I sized the clip art appropriately and added text under each picture, then I printed out game boards and smaller images for the Zingo game pieces.  Next, I cut out and covered the game boards with clear Con-tact paper (2) and cut out the smaller images and attached them to the Zingo game pieces (I used clear Con-tact paper to attach the paper to the game pieces, but Scotch tape should also work) (3).  Here are three sets of games I made with links to the JPEG files and my Power Point Templates:

Farm & Vehicles

Farm & Vehicles

Summer & Brown Bear, Brown Bear Story

Summer & Brown Bear, Brown Bear Story



JPEG files (4)  for the above game boards and game pieces with instructions (click on links below, then hover over images and right click and use “save as” to save jpeg files on your computer):

Power Point Template if you want to create your own boards and Zingo game pieces with other files:

Stickers on Zingo Game Pieces

Another method is to buy stickers and put them on the Zingo game pieces, which is a great option for adding your child’s favorite characters to the Zingo game.  If you want to reuse your tiles, be aware that some self-adhesive stickers adhere strongly, so it will be a lot of work to remove the stickers. Also, it was difficult to find stickers that were the right size to cover the whole original image on the Zingo game pieces.  Therefore, for most stickers sets, I cut out each sticker to the appropriate size and stuck it on white paper, then attached the mounted sticker to a Zingo game piece with clear Con-tact paper (alternatively you could use Scotch tape).  Here is a game set I made with Dora and Pooh stickers:

Dora and Pooh

Dora and Pooh




3. Another option is to print the images on self-adhesive computer labels and attach them to the Zingo game pieces, but they might be difficult to remove at a later time.

4. JPEG files posted by permission from the artist,

What to Do When Easy Turn-Taking Games Are Not Easy Enough

My daughter Beth has multiple developmental issues that interfere with her ability to play easy turn-taking games (e.g., difficulty focusing on tasks, language delay, motor planning challenges, fine motor delays, and core strength issues that make sitting difficult) .  I have attempted turn-taking games on and off starting at age 3, shortly after Beth’s autism diagnosis.  I just recently figured out how to play games with her and she is nearly 5. The key to our success was to think outside the box and modify rules, and sometimes the game itself, to fit Beth. Below is a list of the lessons I have learned on the road to playing games, with examples of the games we use (or do not use and put in the “game reject” closet) and how we modified them. Please visit these Pinterest boards for my lists of easy turn-taking games and supplies for making your own games ( and  Also, I welcome input on games and game modifications on my Facebook page (

1. No Sitting Required

Beth has trouble sitting still or sitting down to do anything, so making her sit on the floor or in a chair to play a game leads to instant frustration.   So I let her stand and I sit beside her while we play games.  Sometimes she rests her foot on a little chair behind her, sometimes she jumps or rocks at the table, and occasionally she does a lap around the house and comes back to the game.  I set out several games so that we can do one quick game after another and so that Beth can choose from the games.  Here is our game table set-up:

Game Table

Game Table

2.  Shop at Thrift Stores and Ebay, and Never Get Rid of a Game

I have found some excellent deals at thrift stores or on Ebay.   I have used the pieces from some second hand games for modifications to other games I own.  I never throw anything out or give a game away, even if it seems like a complete reject.  I may think of some way to use the game or its pieces later, so I put it in the “game reject” closet.  Example of an easy turn-taking game from a thrift store:

Maisy Game (

This is a wonderful matching game and I paid $2.50 for it.  I just tilt the spinner to help it land appropriately to avoid missed turns, otherwise it is perfect.  Beth loves this game because we have read Maisy books since she was very young.

Maisy Game

Maisy Game

3. Circumvent Fine Motor and Motor Planning Obstacles

I try to remove or lessen fine motor challenges and motor planning obstacles so that we can just focus on the game itself.  Examples of game modifications I have made to circumvent fine motor and motor planning issues:

Preschool Lotto Game (

Lotto is an easy matching game. But the instructions say to put the cards face down on a table, have the players take turns to turn one card over, and if he/she does not have the card on their board then turn the card back over and return the card to the table.  All that turning over and handling small cards on a flat surface was too difficult for Beth. Another problem was she would drag her hands across the board during play and slide the cards around the board by accident.

Modifications:  I used a paper bag to draw the cards out of the bag instead of putting them on a table.  At first we just started with her playing alone with 1 board so she did not have to return cards to the bag and miss turns.  Now we can play together and she enjoys throwing them back into the bag.  Also, I used puffy paint ( to create boarders to keep the cards in place on the game boards.

Lotto Boards With Puffy Paint Boarders, Pieces Drawn From Paper Bag

Lotto Boards With Puffy Paint Boarders, Pieces Drawn From Paper Bag

Angry Birds (Knock on Wood) (

Beth giggled when she saw the bird and pig heads, so I knew I had to make this game work for her.  She already understood the game because she plays Angry Birds on the iPad (or attempts to, often the bird gets shot the wrong way!).  The catapult in the real game is excellent…easy to load and easy to pull back.  I do the building, but even knocking it down has its challenges for Beth. She can’t work the catapult on her own by holding with one hand and pulling back with the other.  She can’t aim with the catapult by moving it or adjusting the amount she pulls it back.

Modifications:  I added a backer board (a train table mat) to increase the chances that Beth knocks something down every time (no aim required, since it bounces of the backboard and she seems to pull it back all the way every time so I can fix the catapult in one spot).  I also taped down the catapult so that she only needs to use one hand.


Angry Birds Game with Backer Board and Taped Down Catapult

Game currently in our “game reject” closet due to fine motor issues:

4. Avoid or Alter Overwhelming Sounds

When I first started playing games with Beth, she was afraid of everything, so her specific fears of sounds that games made was not clear.  But now her fears are more obvious, because she winces and/or scrunches up her face, then disengages.  If I see signs that sound is problem, I alter the game’s sound and try again.  If I can’t get it to work after a couple of tries, I just put the thing in the “game reject” closet.  Examples of games where I altered sound:

Red Rover (

Beth thinks Red Rover is adorable and she wants to play with him, so that is a big plus!  I like that there are two levels of play (easy level- the dog just requests that you feed him different colors of bones; advanced level-  the dog requests colors, shapes, and numbers). But it is hard for Beth to align and push the bones in his mouth, so I help her.  The dog uses too much language, so I have to repeat the key item he is requesting.  But the near deal breaker was that the loudness of Red Rover’s voice stops her dead in her tracks and she can do little else but listen to the recording.

Modification: I simply taped the speaker in the back, and now it doesn’t overwhelm her anymore.

Red Rover

Red Rover

Red Rover, Speaker Taped

Red Rover, Speaker Taped

Angry Birds (Knock on Wood) (

I mentioned some of the modifications to this game above, but sound is also an issue.  The sound of plastic pieces crashing to the table and into each other scare Beth.

Modification:  I put a piece of cardboard underneath to dampen the sound and I cut and sanded a square pine rod to make a quieter version.


Angry Birds, Plastic Replaced with Wood and Cardboard Underneath

Pop-Up Pirate  (

This is a very easy and fast moving turn-taking game where you plunge swords into a barrel until the pirate pops up (sort of sick!). It is a bit difficult for Beth to insert the swords due to fine motor issues, but I tilt the barrel to help her see the hole and that helps.  The biggest issue is the loud  and sudden spring-type mechanical sound when the pirate pops out, followed by the loud sound of the pirate hitting the table.

Modification:  I hold my hand above the pirate’s head and catch him, which eliminates the noise when he hits the table, which helps some. The jury is still out on this game.  I will continue to give Beth game choices and if she stops choosing it, I will assume the noise is too much and put it away.

Pop-Up Pirate

Game currently in our “game reject” closet due to noise: Lucky Ducks. Take my advice, if you have a sound-sensitive kid, don’t buy this game.  Even if you buy an old version and disable the incessant and loud quacking by taking out a battery, the motor that makes the ducks move around and around is too loud.  Turn everything off and you still have to deal with matching the bottom of the duck to a card, which involves turning the duck over, then turning him back over so that the match is hidden again. (

5. Stack the Deck & Avoid Missed Turns

I often use “stack the deck” (i.e. ensure that game cards or pieces are ordered so that there is always a play) or take other measures to avoid missed turns.  It makes the game move faster and avoids confusion.  Examples of games where I altered games to avoid missed turns:

Candyland Castle (

This was the best beginning turn-taking game for Beth.  It has action (pull the lever to shoot game piece out), but no loud noise. It is super simple and quick.  The game cards have a recessed areas to hold game pieces which is a plus.  But the instructions say to load all the pieces, take turns ejecting them out, and if there is no match put the piece back in.  The game can get long if you have to keep putting the pieces back and putting the pieces back disrupts the turn taking and flow.

Modification:  Stack the deck!  I take two cards (one for me, one for Beth) and load them up with pieces, then put pieces from each card in an alternating fashion into the castle to load it.  That way, when the lever is pulled, we take turns and there is always a match for each of our cards.

Candyland Castle

Zingo (

Zingo is a step up from Candyland Castle (mentioned directly above). It is good for working on language and has a great sliding game piece dispenser. But the game can get really long if you keep returning unplayable pieces.  The game board has no recessed areas for the pieces, so they may slide around too much.

Modification:  Stack the deck! The game dispenser spits out two game pieces at a time. I put the game pieces for my daughter’s card on one side of the dispenser, and mine on the other.  I either quickly get my piece to avoid confusion or work on the fact that Beth doesn’t have the piece, so she should give it to me.  The puffy paint mentioned in the lotto board section above can be used to make boarders around each square to keep the pieces from sliding around if needed.


Hi Ho Cherry O ( and

A spinner and removing cherries is a great way to work on counting. But the game board was too cluttered and Beth kept putting her cherries in other buckets and taking the cherries from my tree and other buckets.  The spinner has some confusing parts that lead to missed turns (e.g., bird flying off with a cherry, spilled bucket) and it was visually confusing.

Modification:  I used pieces from two games I owned (see links above), and made a version with separate trees, separate buckets, and a portable spinner.  I mounted my child’s tree on a box with a hole in it so the cherries would not slide around.  I took apart the spinner (it pulls it apart and snaps back together easily), modified it with paper covered with clear contact paper, and put only large numbers on the spinner to avoid missed turns.  At the end of the game, I tilt the spinner to get the exact number of cherries left on the tree.  The portable spinner is great for controlling the game, because after Beth’s turn, I can hold the spinner above her tree so that she stops taking off cherries and I can take my turn. I taped Beth’s tree and bucket down so it did not move during play.

Hi Ho Cherry O

Hi Ho Cherry O

Game currently in our “game reject” closet due to visual clutter: I Spy Games. These games are a visual clutter nightmare for my child!  Also, traditional board games (Candyland, Chutes and Ladders, etc).  Many newer versions are more cluttered than the classic versions for some reason.  The Lauri Toys Peggy Back Game is an easier option I plan to try:

6. Make Desired Placement of Game Pieces Obvious

My child needs to know EXACTLY where to put things during a game, or frustration ensues.  Here are some sample modifications to games to address the placement issue:

Memory Games.  When all attempts to do memory games in the real word failed, the iPad taught Beth how to play them (it took many months, but slowly, she got the concept).  But even after mastering memory games on the iPad, playing them in the real world initially failed.  Then I realized because of Beth’s need to know exactly where things go, I needed a holder to keep the game pieces in place during play and bowls for our matches.  I used foam board ( and cut out openings, then taped the foam board to the game table (the picture below shows 8 openings and I will cut out the top 4 tracings later to expand the game).  We use thick wooden tiles to help with fine motor issues (there are many sets available, here is one –

Memory Game (foam board with cut-outs to hold tiles and bowls to hold matches)

Memory Game (Foam Board with Cut-Outs to Hold Tiles in Place During Play and Bowls to Hold Matches)

Honey Bee Tree (

This is a very easy game…just take turn pulling out the leaves and collect the bees.  This is basically the game Kerplunk and there are other versions out there with monkeys and marbles, but my kid likes bees.  But it takes forever to set up, so do it before your child even approaches it!  Where do you put the bees and leaves?  This was a huge problem for Beth.  I kept trying to show her how to put them in piles, but that confused her.

Modification:  I use a tall cup for our leaves that we pull out, and we each get a short cup for our bees.  At the end we work on which cup has more by sight instead of counting them all.

Honey Bee Tree

Honey Bee Tree

7. Make Your Own Games

Here are some home-made games I have made:

Eraser Lotto Game

I go to the dollar store and buy seasonal erasers to make lotto games. I copy them on my color copier to make lotto cards (cover the cards with clear contact paper).  I hide the erasers in my daughter’s lima bean sensory bin and we take turns drawing them out to place them on the cards.  I keep note of where I place the pieces in the bin, so that I can “find” the same pieces that she finds so she doesn’t draw a repeat piece.  This is the Valentine’s Day version of the game:

Eraser Lotto Game

Eraser Lotto Game

You can also make lotto cards by copying pieces of a matching game, which are abundant at thrift stores.

Feed the Animals Game

I previously posted about my iPad to real word feed the animals activity (, which we are now using as a feed the animals game. I went to a teacher’s supply store and bought a spinner, took the spinner apart, copied the feed the animal food, cut out the food, put the food pieces on the spinner, covered with clear contact paper, and put the spinner back together.  We take turns spinning to feed the animals.  I tilt the spinner to avoid missed turns so that we never land on a food that has already been fed.

Feed the Animals

Feed the Animals

First Words Game

I previously posted about my iPad to real word beginning words activity (  This activity was easy to convert to a game by putting the letter tiles in a bag and taking turns to draw letters.

First Words Game

First Words Game

Simple Path Games

I found many theme-based simple path games in the book More Than Counting ( In the example below, Beth and I take turns rolling a die to see who can get her acorn to a squirrel first. A large die is helpful because she can touch the dots while counting. We roll our wooden die into a plastic box to dampen the noise.

Short Path "Race" Game (custom die 1-3, game pieces are acorns sanded flat on the bottom)

Short Path “Race” Game (large wooden 1-6 die where I used self-stick foam to cover each side and put dots on each face with a permanent marker to make a 1-3 die, game pieces are acorns sanded flat on the bottom, squirrel stickers at end)

Short Path "Race" Game (Close Up of Acorn Game Piece)

Short Path “Race” Game (Close Up of Acorn Game Piece)


From the iPad to the Real World: Feed the Animals

This is the third iPad to the Real World post (other posts can be found at and where I take iPad apps that appeal to my daughter Beth and turn them into “real world” activities.  The iPad does the priming by knocking out the expectation and process hurdles, so that Beth can work on fine motor skills and I can work with her to expand her language or teach her educational concepts. I cannot stress how much of a miracle it is to see Beth walk up to the task I have made based on the iPad app and just do it.  There is no complaining and no running away, she just gets to work.  Amazing.

So, this third iPad to “real world” activity is based on the Feed the Animals app (by Anshu Dhanuka,  Beth just loves this app, and here she is using the app on the iPad:

I made a “real world” feed the animals activity made from screen shots of the Feed the Animals app and a milk carton.  Here are the instructions for making the activity:

1.  Take screen shots of 4 animals (which includes the side bar with the food choices) from the Feed the Animals app.  Here is how you can take a screen shot of anything on the iPad, and save it in your camera roll:

2.  Print out the images.  Either e-mail the pictures to your computer for printing if you don’t have a wireless printer or download an app, such as iCan-Print (, to print the pictures from the iPad to your wireless printer.  I had to increase the size of the pictures to 200% and use landscape mode on iCan-Print.

3. Cut the top off a clean half-gallon cardboard milk carton and turn it upside down.  Trim and attach the print outs onto each side of the milk carton with double sided tape.

Attach Pictures to Milk Carton

Attach Pictures to Milk Carton – This Picture Shows 1 Side Completed

4.  After putting pictures on all sides, cover the outside of the milk carton with clear contact paper (  Also, cut out and cover food choices with contact paper.

Cover with Clear Contact Paper

Milk Carton with Pictures on All Sides, Covered with Clear Contact Paper

"Food" Covered with Clear Contact Paper

“Food” Covered with Clear Contact Paper

5.  Cut out the mouths with an X-Acto knife (

Cut Out Mouths with an X-Acto Knife

Cut Out Mouths with an X-Acto Knife

6.  Finished product….these hungry animals need to be fed!

Finished Product, Sides 1 & 2

Finished Product, Sides 1 & 2

Finished Product, Sides 3 & 4

Finished Product, Sides 3 & 4

There are many more pictures on the app, so I will be making more of these milk carton feed the animal activities.  So far we have worked on the following concepts while feeding the animals:

  • What does the animal eat?
  • If we know an animal in real life, I say that animal also likes to eat that food too
  • If she puts in the wrong food, I put my hand inside and have him spit out the food and say “yuck” or “he didn’t like that!”
  • We work on color of the animals and foods
  • What does the animal say?
  • We talk about the monkey sitting in the tree, the mouse has big teeth, etc.

From the iPad to the Real World: Fine Motor Work with Sight Words

The iPad has helped my daughter Beth progress on her fine motor control, but she still resists using her hands in the “real world.” With her fine motor, motor planning, and sensory challenges, fine motor activities in the “real world” are one of her biggest hurdles.

Since Beth is absolutely obsessed with the spelling app First Words (by Learning Touch,, I turned the app into a “real world” fine motor activity.  Because Beth loves the app and is already familiar with the pictures and spelling process, she willingly works on using the letters tiles to cover the letters on the print out.  I cannot tell you what a miracle it is to see her doing a fine motor activity without resistance!  Here she is doing the activity (with a really bad sinus infection, so these are actually the worst of circumstances!):

Instructions for Making the First Words Fine Motor Activity from the First Words App

1.  Take a screen shot of the picture with the word below it from the  First Words app (make sure the settings have auto advance set to “off “).  Here is how you can take a screen shot of anything on the iPad, and save it in your camera roll:

2.  Print out the image.  Either e-mail the picture to your computer for printing if you don’t have a wireless printer or download an app, such as iCan-Print (, to print from the iPad to your wireless printer.

3.  Using letter tiles (, arrange the tiles to spell the word on the First Word print out, put the tiles upside down on a copy machine to copy the word on white paper, then cut out the copied word and paste it over the word on your First Words print out.  This makes an exact size match for your letter tiles.

4.  Cover the First Words screen shot (with the pasted word made from letter tiles) with clear contact paper (

5. If your child has trouble finding the right tiles in a pile and/or picking them up, try organizing them in an egg carton like this:

First Words Activity

First Words Activity

First Words Spelling Print Outs

First Words Spelling Print Outs

From the iPad to the Real World: Puzzles

When it comes to getting Beth to do puzzles, we have tried it all. Small puzzles, big floor puzzles, wood puzzles, jigsaws, puzzles that make noise, puzzles with favorite characters, cube puzzles, foam puzzles, progressive puzzles (starting at 3-4 pieces), and on and on. We bribed her with all her favorite edibles, we tried working very slowly from baby puzzles to  multi-piece puzzles, and we tried using sound puzzles since she liked them the best. We saw some progress, but in the end Beth still hated puzzles.

Since Beth had a distaste for puzzles in the “real world,” we were shocked that she LOVED the Disney puzzle books on the iPad.  Disney Puzzle Books were the perfect puzzles for Beth, because they had a small number of jigsaw pieces, had characters she liked, and there was a faint background image so that she could match the pieces.  The iPad puzzles are much easier for Beth to navigate compared to the 3-dimensional world, because the pieces are already oriented correctly and all Beth has to do is drag them into place and get close to the right spot.  Look at Beth go doing a Minnie Mouse puzzle on the iPad (1):

Converting a Puzzle on the iPad into a Real World Puzzle

Beth loved the iPad Disney puzzles so much, I decided to convert one of the puzzles into a 3-dimensional version.  She immediately liked it!  I still have to take out only 3-4 pieces at a time and orient the puzzle pieces correctly so that she doesn’t get frustrated.  But at least Beth was happy to do the puzzle and did not protest or flee the scene, as she does with other puzzles!

Here are step-by-step instructions for turning an iPad puzzle into a foam puzzle:

1.  Take a screen shot of the puzzle (I actually had to take two pictures and put them together, because when the puzzle is completed, the outline of the puzzle pieces disappears and the iPad app immediately goes to video).  Here is how you can take a screen shot of anything on the iPad, and save it in your camera roll:

2. Print out the puzzle image.  Either e-mail the picture to your computer for printing if you don’t have a wireless printer.  Otherwise, you can download an app, such as iCan-Print ( to print from the iPad to your wireless printer.

3. Put the image on adhesive foam ( and cover with contact paper (

5.  Cut out the puzzle with an X-Acto knife (  Make sure to press straight down when you are cutting and trim any rough edges.

Minnie Mouse Puzzle on Self-Adhesive Foam Board

Minnie Mouse Puzzle on Self-Adhesive Foam Board

An unexpected bonus is that the foam puzzle pieces make a very satisfying “pop” sound when they go in, which seems to motivate Beth even more.  Here is Beth popping two puzzle pieces into the foam puzzle:

We still have some work to do, but I hope this is the beginning of the end of Beth’s puzzling puzzle problem!



Applying Floortime to Technology: How My Child with Autism Learned to Use the iPad

In this post, I will share how our daughter Beth learned to work the iPad (i.e. learned to poke and drag, the key to using all apps).  I will narrate our process during videos of my daughter demonstrating the apps, and then generalize the lessons I learned at the end of this post. Since we are using Floortime (1) for play therapy, I took a play-based child-centered approach to helping Beth use the iPad.  I realize that all kids are different and this approach may not work for all children, but I am hoping that by describing the process we used to help Beth succeed, our experiences will help another family.

Fumbling with the iPad

We got the iPad almost 2 years ago, when my daughter Beth was about 3 years old. My husband and I downloaded several fun apps that we thought would motivate Beth. But because of Beth’s fine motor, motor planning, and communication delays, she became easily frustrated.  I tried hand over hand (using my hand to guide hers) to help her progress on the iPad, but she resisted this method of teaching.  She managed to poke at a few things within apps, but helping Beth progress on the iPad fell to the bottom of a long priority list and we let it go for awhile.

When Beth was about 4.5 years old, I decided to put more time into teaching her how to use the iPad, because I hoped the device could help her with her fine motor development and, eventually, preschool learning.  To teach Beth, I primarily used a Floortime approach (following her lead and interests, sitting beside her and demonstrating the apps with my own hand, highlighting items on the iPad with simple and excited language, using no additional rewards other than the app itself). With a lot of patience, careful thought, and trial and error with many apps, Beth has made astounding progress over the last 3 months.

But Beth’s road to progress started with a lot of poking, so that is where I will begin…

Beginning Poking

We had tried to get Beth to use her pointer finger for years (popping soap bubbles, putting holes in play-doh, popping cookies dough out of cutters, pointing to things she likes, etc), so it was hard to imagine her working the iPad touch screen with her finger.  But for Beth, using her pointer finger on the iPad was easier than using it in the real world, because her movements were confined to a two-dimensional screen. In fact, beyond finding motivating apps, I did not have to help Beth with this step.

We started with a simple free Balloon Pops (2) app and she quickly got the hang of it:

A bubble pop app (Beautiful Bubbles, 3) is also available from the same seller.  There are many other similar apps available if these do not work for your child.  Try these key words in iTunes and browse under the entertainment category: pop, bubble, balloon.

Advanced Poking

Next we used a few apps to help Beth refine her targeting (i.e. the targets she had to poke were more spaced out).  Refined targeting required more motivation, so I looked for apps that emphasized her natural love of real-looking bubbles (Bugs and Bubbles, 4) and her favorite song (Itsy Bitsy Spider, 5).  To encourage Beth to expand her exploration of the Itsy Bitsy Spider app, I sat beside her and poked non-preferred items and excitedly labeled the items and their actions.

To find apps that work for your child, try entering keywords of your child’s favorite toys, songs, or objects into iTunes, and, if necessary, limit by the entertainment or education categories.  Find apps (or parts of apps) that are controlled by poking only.  The best targeting apps have objects that are significantly separated and/or moving, and require poking over entire iPad screen.

From Poking to Dragging

Controlled dragging of objects with her index finger was a big challenge for Beth.  There was a single vertical dragging item on the Itsy Bitsy Spider (5) app mentioned above, so we started there.  Then we used the app called Wheels on the Bus (6), which is made by the same company as Itsy Bitsy Spider, and has both horizontal and vertical dragging.  Wheels on the Bus was a perfect next step for Beth, because she loves the song and the app used the same singer and some of the same graphics as Itsy Bitsy Spider.  To encourage her to try dragging, I sat beside her and dragged my finger across non-preferred items and excitedly labeled the items and their actions.

If your child has trouble learning to drag, I suggest finding apps (or parts of apps) that are very motivating to your child and have a lot of poking and very minimal dragging.  After mastering the minimal dragging apps, slowly increase to apps with more dragging.  This may take a lot of key word searches and some trial and error (i.e. purchasing several apps that don’t work out), but it is worth it.

Advanced Dragging

Next I had to find an app with lots of dragging.  Because Beth loves letters, I looked for a spelling app, and I found one that had spinning items as a reward (First Words, 7).  I think I demonstrated the app 1 time and she immediately started using it.

There is a free version of First Words (7) if you would like to try it out. If your child is good with sorting, you can try the sorting section of Bugs and Bubbles (4) or the Candy Count (8) sorting app.  Many preschool apps contain a sorting section, drag and drop puzzles, and drag to match sections.  Again it may take some creative keyword searching,  browsing in iTunes, and purchasing some apps that do not work out, but it is well worth it.

General Lessons Learned

  • I use my child’s interest (favorite toys, objects, songs, etc.) when selecting apps.
  • I find apps that have the right amount of challenge for my child.  If she is having trouble, I try to break the goal into smaller parts (i.e. find easier apps, use easy parts of preschool apps, or look for easy options within apps).
  • If I the app itself is not very motivating (i.e. spelling), I find apps with rewards my child likes (spinning, firework visuals, applause, etc.).
  • If I see my child stimming (hand flapping, jumping up and down, etc.) while using an app, I take it as a good sign that I have found the right app!  It means that she is excited.
  • If my child becomes fixated on a part of an app, I try to slowly expand her use of new parts by sitting beside her, demonstrating the new parts on the iPad with my own hand, and highlighting the new parts with simple expressive language she understands.
  • I try free apps first, but I do not hesitate to spend money to find the most motivating apps for my child.
  • It pays to take time to browse iTunes to find the most motivating apps for my child.
  • I use creative keyword searching in iTunes to find apps, then filter by category (entertainment, education, etc) if the hits are too large.
  2. Joe Scrivens (2012). Balloon Pops (Version 1.1) [iPad application software],
  3. Joe Scrivens (2011).  Beautiful Bubbles (Version 1.0)  [iPad application software],
  4. Little Bit Studio, LLC. (2012). Bugs and Bubbles (Version 1.1)  [iPad application software],
  5. Duck, Duck, Moose, Inc. (2012).  Itsy Bitsy Spider (Version 1.1) [iPad application software],
  6. Duck, Duck, Moose, Inc. (2012).  Wheels on the Bus (Version 1.1) [iPad application software],
  7. Clozure Associates (2012). First Words Sampler (Version 4.4) [iPad application software]
  8. Camigo Media LLC (2012). Candy Count (Version 1.3) [iPad application software],